Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Princess Painter

Vladimir Borovikovsky "Portrait of A. G. and A. A. Lobanov-Rostovsky' 1814  
The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

This painting by Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825) depicts Prince Alexei Alexandrovich Lobanov-Rostovsky and his wife Princess Alexandra Grigorievna. Princess Alexandra holds a tiny ivory watercolor palette and brushes in one hand, and a golden drawing implement in the other, tools which signify her refinement and accomplishment.  In the 1800s young ladies "of quality" were expected to attain a certain level of expertise in one or more areas of the fine and applied arts such as art, music and needlecrafts. Nothing is known about Alexandra's actual artistic output but it was extremely difficult to research her, in part because there is another far more famous person with the same name as her husband, only one generation younger. As far as I can make out this lovely young couple's biggest claim to fame was that they later in life legally adopted their grandchild Princess Doña Esperanza Felicitas Alexandra de Sarachaga upon her parents' demise. Doña Esperanza was quite a powerhouse. One of the wealthiest women of her age, she was a friend and confidante of many of Europe's highest-ranking royals and was known for her diplomacy, loyalty and bravery. In fact it is said she discovered a plot to depose King Ludwig of Bavaria, and despite facing personal danger she managed to alert the King and his people in time.

The painter Vladimir Borovikovsky himself has an interesting life story. Born into a Ukrainian military family, he served in a Cossack regiment along with his three brothers.  Borovikovsky however took "early retirement" and devoted himself to art, mostly painting icons and other devotional images for local churches. (His father had done the same, leaving the military after a respectable but short career to become an icon painter.) Borovikovsky might never have become well known, nor even sought a wider audience, had not chance thrown his work in the path of the Empress Catherine the Great while she made an Imperial tour of her newly acquired provinces. Borovikovsky had been asked to decorate the rooms where the Empress would be staying and his paintings so charmed Catherine that she requested he relocate to Saint Petersburg.

Borovikovsky moved to St Petersburg as commanded, and went about studying further to be worthy of his new patron. He was too old to attend the Imperial Academy but studied privately and intensively to such good effect that in 1795 he was appointed a Royal Academician. He had a successful and productive career, painting hundreds of intimate portraits of members of the Russian royal family, courtiers and other notable personages. Near the end of his life he also returned to painting icons, some of which are still in possession of the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

~Many thanks to artist Michael Lane for sharing this image with me!

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